No one on the Citizen Review Committee last night used Officer Todd Tackett's name when they voted his commanding officer erred in declaring "unproven" an allegation Tackett acted rudely by referring to a 62-year-old black man as a pimp, before citing him for jaywalking, and talking about his low-income housing.
But as the Mercury first reported in May, Tackett was one of two cops accused of racial profiling and other bureau violations in a complaint filed by community volunteer Floyd McCorvey last summer. (The other was a training officer, William Green.)
Not only did the board vote 4-2 to ask the bureau to change its discipline finding to "sustained," but its members had extremely harsh words for the cop in the face of an investigation that found the two officers were mixed up on several basic details and that Tackett had taken McCorvey's medical pot pipe and thrown it away without giving him an evidence receipt. Tackett was merely given a debriefing by his commanding officer, Central Precinct's Lieutenant Mike Fort.
"It saddens me this particular officer would be put in a position of training our new and upcoming officers," said CRC member Rochelle Silver, "when he doesn't recognize what it is he's doing until you have to tell him what he's doing."
Little did the CRC realize, however, that Tackett wasn't just trusted as a trainer. He also was about to be promoted to sergeant, giving him supervisory responsibilities over several current police officers. Tackett, who has worked for the bureau since 2004, was on a promotion list made public by the bureau this morning, several hours after the late-night CRC vote to seek greater discipline.
"Typical," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch.
I've written twice, in May and July, about McCorvey's case—chiefly about a racial profiling complaint that the city's Independent Police Review lightly investigated before deciding it couldn't be proven. (This time, the Oregonian was there, and also KOIN.)
The CRC had asked IPR to reconsider its stance back in May. IPR, under former director Mary-Beth Baptista, refused almost immediately because the CRC lacks the power to make that request under city code. The two sides went back and forth over the next two months, holding meetings and exchanging emails, until CRC decided to give up the fight in July.
But as much as we knew about McCorvey's case so far—he says Tackett and Green accosted him near NW 19th and Couch, asked him if a nearby black woman he didn't know was his "whore," put his hands on his head, searched him, confiscated his pot pipe, mocked the Central City Concern apartment where he lives, and then let him go with the jaywalking citation—the appeal hearing revealed some additional distressing information.
As I noted earlier, Green and Tackett disagreed on a handful of key points, according to investigation testimony read aloud by CRC members.
• Tackett said he saw McCorvey jaywalk before he saw McCorvey talking to the nearby woman. In talking to investigators, he said jaywalking was the reason he stopped McCorvey, which Fort said was a legitimate pretext to then investigate for prostitution in a high-vice area. Green, however, said McCorvey briefly talked to the woman but stopped after he saw cops and then jaywalked. McCorvey says he was just saying hello to a stranger after getting off the bus.
• The two also disagreed on whether McCorvey's pot pipe was clean. Tackett said it was but pocketed it anyway before smashing it and failing to catalog it. Green said it was dirty. Tackett did admit referring to the pipe as a crack pipe in front of McCorvey, ostensibly to train Green.
• Tackett said he might have said something about McCorvey's housing but not to make fun of it. Green didn't remember anything about it.
• But that's not the worst thing. Tackett said he thought the nearby woman was white and a known prostitute and therefore, even though he denied using the words "ho" or "whore," it was reasonable to ask McCorvey if he was a pimp (but not, tellingly, a john). Especially because the area is known as a vice district. Green and McCorvey both said the woman was black. ("Deep, dark chocolate," McCorvey said last night.) Meaning she clearly wasn't the woman Tackett said he thought she was when he was and probably wasn't even an prostitute at all. Neither cop went to talk to her, because Green was a trainee and couldn't be left alone. Investigators also didn't try to track her down.
"How is it you gave so much credibility to these officers who couldn't get the story straight?" Silver asked Fort, Tackett's superior.
"I guess I don't agree they didn't get the story straight," he said.
Later, Fort said, "It wasn't important what he knew after this encounter happened. It was more important what he believed before. He was so intentional about describing this person, he believed it was that person. Why he was wrong, I don't know."
The subtext, however, was clear for CRC members and members of the public who said a white person McCorvey's age likely wouldn't have faced that line of questioning—about being a crackhead and a pimp. A majority argued it didn't matter whether Tackett meant to offend McCorvey or not as part of a stop that Fort felt was "reasonable."
"If they'd have been in the same situation," former state lawmaker Barbara Ross said of the white men on the CRC, "I don't believe these same officers would be saying you're a pimp and that's your woman who's working for you."
In a symbolic vote on the rudeness allegation, the CRC voted unanimously against Tackett. The 4-2 vote was on whether it was "reasonable" for Fort to conclude he couldn't prove Tackett had violated policy. Two members who reluctantly agreed it was technically feasible to come up with that finding changed their votes to "yes" when asked if they thought was an incorrect finding.
The symbolic votes are a new twist in CRC hearings, spurred by advice from Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who has confirmed to me she made the suggestion. That way the CRC can create a record of the way it thinks cases ought to have been handled.
"He was being discourteous," CRC Vice Chair Jeff Bissonnette said. "He did disparage the appellant."
It's now up to Chief Mike Reese's office to decide whether it will modify the finding against Tackett. The CRC upheld a finding that Green was clear for searching McCorvey, after it was shown that McCorvey, despite having Green hold his hands atop his head, technically consented to the search.
If Reese disagrees, the matter comes before a conference between the CRC, IPR, and the chief's office. If there's still no resolution, it heads to city council. That rarely, if ever, happens.
McCorvey acknowledges this is a small case in light of beatings, Taserings, and shootings. But it's also important precisely because it's small.
"Do you know how many people have gone through this but didn't fight," he told me after the hearing. "Get up off your duff and report the little things. They lead to majors."